My mother died last month. And while processing the many horrors of that experience feels like drifting down a slow, fog-ridden river cluttered with debris, those horrors were rendered slightly less horrible during Mom's last two days because we we were able to spend them together in a suite in a Southern California nursing home that has been specially designed to let people stay with their dying loved ones around the clock.
Called the Kaiser Permanente Comfort Suite and outfitted with a hospital bed for the patient along with a restroom, refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, cozy armchair, and a couch that's big enough to sleep on, it is one of just a handful of such accommodations nationwide. Other touches in the suite include soothing colors, striking artwork, flower arrangements, and a big flatscreen TV.
It's the brainchild of Pushkar Chand, MD, a palliative-medicine specialist who works with the hospice program at Kaiser Permanente's South Bay Medical Center. Designing this suite and having it installed at the Del Amo Gardens Care Center "was part of my passion," Chand told me during one of his visits with Mom.
Hospice work "is my calling," he said. "God guided me into this direction. It's where He wanted me to go.
"I want to make a difference for our patients and their families, and I want to treat our patients and their families as I would treat my own family. When my grandmother passed away in a nursing home, it didn't have a suite like this," so her loved ones could not stay overnight with her at the end.
Just like birth, dying is a life transition, Chand pointed out -- so the dying deserve as much dignity and respect as do pregnant women, new mothers, and newborns.
"They deserve to be treated like people, not just as physical bodies but as emotional and spiritual beings as well."
Palliative medicine and hospice care are largely about pain management for patients and consideration for their loved ones.
"To me, suffering is not acceptable if I can do anything to minimize that suffering," Chand said.
Although Mom had fallen into a deep sleep even before being brought to Del Amo Gardens -- a sleep from which she never again wakened, Chand held her hand and told her that he was honored to be part of her care team.
Working on weekends for nearly a year to design and create the suite, he chose moss-green as its main color "because green signifies comfort." He exchanged the bathroom's original shiny hospital-type white door for a woodgrain one. Future plans include adding a recliner.
When you find yourself in the position -- so infinitely natural that it feels anything but -- of watching life ebb away from the human being who gave you life, privacy and beauty make all the difference in the world. Even if that human being can no longer see, it matters that the pictures on the walls were selected with care. And even if she never knows that you are there or that you need not leave the room to eat or sleep, this matters too, at least to you.
"We all have our own lessons to learn on this journey," Chand said.